The Windsor Dukes junior team will hit the biggest stage in B.C. high school football Saturday, playing for a provincial title at BC Place stadium.
The Dukes will face the Vernon Panthers in the junior AA championship game Saturday at 9:30 a.m., kicking off a full day of football at BC Place that will culminate in the senior AAA final between G.W. Graham and Vancouver College at 7 p.m.
The junior Dukes booked their spot in the final with a tough 14-13 semifinal win over John Barsby Secondary in Nanaimo, Nov. 24.
The Panthers, meanwhile, beat Robert Bateman 35-14 in the other semifinal, Nov. 23 in Vernon.
“Our team is very excited to get back into the dome this year,” Windsor head coach Malcolm Allen said. “It is everyone’s first time getting to play in BC Place, hopefully we get those nerves out when we walk around the field Saturday morning and are ready to go by 9:30.”
The Dukes were led on offence this season by running back Brady Smith, whose strong play opened up the passing game for quarterback Emmet Ward and receivers Alex Benoit van Iperen and Samson Sachter.
On defence Sachter and Smith were the team’s top tacklers, covering the field from sideline to sideline, said Allen, with the linemen doing the hard work to free up the linebackers, and cornerback Colton Dickson leading the secondary.
Windsor will need to be at their best to slow down Vernon’s high-powered offence, Allen said, adding the Panthers were the best running and passing team in the league this year.
“I expect us to be in a tough battle throughout the game, Vernon is very well coached with an excellent line and athletes all over the field,” he said. “As a team we need to stay over top of their receivers and swarm their running back wherever he goes.… Overall, I think this will be a big test for some of our kids and a great opportunity to match up against the best team in the province and see how we do.”
Carson Graham makes junior and senior semifinals
Elsewhere on the gridiron, Carson Graham put on a strong showing at both the senior and junior levels, with both teams making provincial semifinals.
The senior Eagles opened the playoffs in the top AAA division with a 28-14 wild card win over Rutland Secondary before scoring a big 32-21 quarterfinal win over Notre Dame. Their run ended at BC Place Saturday, however, with a 41-20 semifinal loss against undefeated Vancouver College, the top-ranked team in the province.
For the Eagles this season, quarterback Liam Marshall put up big numbers. He led the league with an average of 299 passing yards per game, throwing for 13 touchdowns against seven interceptions in the regular season. Griffin Withers, Fin Nemeth, Eric Town and Malek Gul were his top receiving targets, with Marshall and running back Dallan Lewis leading the team’s rushing attack.
Vytor Oliviera was the team’s top tackler while Breylon McCuller led the team in sacks.
At the junior AAA level, the Eagles also made it deep into the playoffs, beating Lord Tweedsmuir 6-0 in a wild card matchup before topping Rutland 24-19 in the quarterfinals.
The run for the juniors ended Nov. 24, with the Eagles falling 43-0 on the road against New Westminster.